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Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. close to decision on another run

Expects to announce second week of November

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Former Utah Gov. and Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. answers a question during an interview at the Huntsman corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. 

Eric Betts, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY —  Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Tuesday he’ll announce his decision about making another run for governor in about two weeks.

“It’ll probably be the second week of November, just because we set a timeline. We’re trying to stick to it. You also want to make sure you have enough in the way of conversations, you kick enough tires,” Huntsman told the Deseret News. “That’s all important to make sure you’re not doing something that’s completely idiotic.”

The twice-elected Republican governor said that’s what he and his wife, Mary Kaye, have been doing since returning from Moscow earlier this month where he spent the past two years as U.S. ambassador to Russia — driving around the state and meeting with Utahns.

Huntsman said he’s also been talking with other potential candidates in the 2020 race to succeed Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not seeking reelection after holding the office since 2009. Herbert became governor when Huntsman stepped down to serve as U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama.

“The more the merrier,” Huntsman said of the Republican field that already includes Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and businessman Jeff Burningham, with former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Amy Winder Newton and retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop among the likely contenders.

He said the field was even larger when he first ran for governor in 2004.

“If you believe we’re at an inflection point and ideas are needed to really be discussed and ironed out and put before the people of this state, that’s a good thing, having more people, not fewer, in the race,” Huntsman said. He said there isn’t a candidate that could keep him out of the race.

“No. Because you run the race against yourself, your family does. And if you decide to get in, that’s all that matters. The external environment is of little concern if you’re in it, because you’re in it to do it right,” he said. His final decision on running, Huntsman said, will depend on the support of his family.

“I trust their judgment above all,” he said of his wife and children. Just what advice he’s getting about running for governor a third time from those closest to him “is between us right now and those negotiations are continuing right now, as we speak.”

Other candidates are already raising money for a race for governor, including Hughes, who reported bringing in nearly $500,000 through the third quarter of the year even though he has yet to formally declare. Huntsman said he hasn’t collected any contributions yet.

“We’re not at that point, but if we greenlight it, we will certainly be there pretty quickly. You want to make sure you have conversations with people who would be part of financing a campaign so that when you hit the point of green light that you can assemble them fast and begin to fund an operation,” he said.

Huntsman told KSL Newsradio’s Doug Wright that being away from Utah when his father, billionaire philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., died last year, made him take a look at what he wanted to do with the rest of his own life.

“What do you value most ... public service has always been something we’ve really believed in. The most enjoyable part of public service was serving here as governor because you can solve problems and you help to strengthen communities,” he said.

Considering another run for governor, Huntsman told Wright, has meant “standing pretty humbly and thinking this was such an awesome thing to do, carrying the wishes and aspirations of the people who voted for you and even those who didn’t that you still represent, because that’s what you do as governor, you represent everybody,”

He said a candidate for governor needs to decide “if there’s something you can add to the debate that will facilitate the one issue that matters most, which is growth and how we deal with it, make no mistake about it, then maybe you should be in the mix.”

Mary Kaye Huntsman stressed that the couple “are here to stay.” When Huntsman returned from Beijing to run for president in 2012, his home was in Washington, D.C. His bid for the White House ended after a disappointing third-place finish in New Hampshire.

“I wish I knew,” Mary Kaye Huntsman said when Wright asked about their political future. “It really was emotional coming back. We love the state so much. We immediately got in our car and started driving ... and just thought, we are so happy being home. That’s all I can tell you at this point, is being back home, this is home.”